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***


Hows Maizie? Gray couldve toppled Ester with a good sneeze. She blinked at him across the table, mouth lax.

My Little Red? Shes good. Fine. Shes just fine. I thought

I know. Gray knew what she was thinking. Hed made it clear he wanted to forget the girl even existed. No mention of her-ever. That was the rule. But she wasnt a little girl anymore and his brain couldnt seem to let her go. He hadnt seen her for days, since that night in the woods, but he could still smell the sugary sweetness of her body, taste her tangy skin.

He shrugged. Its been a long time.

Granny nodded, pushing the box of gingerbread cookies closer to his plate. Too long. It wasnt her fault-

Ester. It was a warning, but he didnt mean to growl. He just wasnt ready to go there. He chewed the last bite of peanut butter sandwich and snatched up two of the cookies.

Gray chuckled, looking the tiny little man over, front and back. She made these. All these years it was her baking I was eating.

Sure was, Granny said. Her mama taught her. I think they remind Maizie of better days. Shes been baking them since she was a little girl. Same length of time youve been eating them.

Strange.

Or fate, Granny said. You both lost a piece of yourselves that night. Stands to reason youd each have what the other needs to make up for it.

Gray tossed the cookies back into the box. Enough, Ester. Theyre cookies.

I just meant-

I lost my wife. He lowered his voice. My mate. You know about me, about us, what we are. We mate for life. Shes gone. Nothing can make up for that.

Humph. Granny snatched one of the gingerbread cookies and bit off its head. A heavy silence settled between them. Gray let his gaze drift over the room.

Green Acres social hall was bright and inviting. Soft yellow walls decorated with country crafts and vintage pictures. Round white tables with matching chairs filled the largest part of the room. The smaller areas were busy with comfortable green couches and upholstered chairs.

People visited with relatives, watching television and playing games, even rippling out a tune on the grand piano.

Grays attention focused across the room to the wall of open glass doors, the patio outside and the forest far beyond. He tried to imagine himself trapped in a place like this. As nice as it was, it wasnt freedom.

Stop scowling, Gray. Im happy here. Ive got friends and I see more of you and Maizie than I ever did at the cottage.

He swung his gaze to her. She knew him well. Dont you miss it? The cottage? The forest?

Ester shrugged. Sure. Sometimes. But Im an old woman, not a beautiful wolf. This is where I belong.

He reached over and took her hands in his. I could change that, Ester. One nip. A small bit of blood. Youd feel years younger, have years and years left to live.

Granny laughed, a sweet-old-lady laugh. No, dear. This is my life. Im happy. Soon Ill be seeing my Frank again. I dont want to put that off any longer. Maizie is the one Im worried about. And you.

Gray shifted in his seat, taking back his hands and rubbing his palms on his thighs. Im fine. And MaiziesMaizie is

A wonderful young lady whos too gosh-darn busy trying to make her life perfect shes missing out on the best part. Love. And you-

Ester. He tried to stop the lecture he knew was coming.

Hush, and let an old lady have her say for once. Youre so busy mourning what youve lost you cant see all thats slipping through your fingers.

She leaned forward and rested her soft withered hand on his arm. I know you mate for life, dear, and the woman who died was your wife. You loved her. But that doesnt mean she was your lifes mate. The heart wants what it wants. Tell me, Mr. Lupo, what is that wolf heart of yours whispering to you about my Little Red?


Chapter Four | Little Red and the Wolf | Chapter Five